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Monday, April 19, 2021, 12:25
Climate danger looms large over Australia
By Karl Wilson in Sydney
Monday, April 19, 2021, 12:25 By Karl Wilson in Sydney

An ornamental statue of a kangaroo stands in the yard of a razed house after bushfires in Gidgegannup, some 40 kilometres north-east of Perth on Feb 4, 2021. (TREVOR COLLENS / AFP)

Australia faces a challenging future and confronts the possibility of the catastrophic bushfires that ravaged many parts of the continent last summer and the devastating floods in March along the eastern seaboard becoming the norm.

These are the collected opinions of some of the country’s leading scientists in a report issued by the Australian Academy of Science on March 30.

The report, “The risks to Australia of a 3°C warmer world”, said Australia, as the driest inhabited continent, is “highly vulnerable to the impacts of global warming”.

“Multiple lines of evidence show that the incidence of extreme weather events will increase as the planet warms,” it said.

“Such events are a natural feature of the climate system, but there is strong evidence that many of them, such as heatwaves, bushfires, storms and coastal flooding, have become more frequent and intense in recent times.

“The argument that Australia doesn’t contribute ‘significantly’ to the greenhouse gas emission problem and therefore should not act on climate change ignores the enormous losses that Australia will experience if it doesn’t work with the rest of the world to achieve and exceed the Paris Agreement goals.”

Over the past five years, about half of hard coral cover in the shallow waters of the Great Barrier Reef, off Australia’s northeastern coast, has been lost due to global warming.

Scientists have estimated that an 80-centimeter rise in global sea levels would drown most of Australia’s low-lying coastal areas, with crop yields falling between 5 percent and 50 percent. Sydney and Melbourne can expect extreme heatwaves, with temperatures reaching 50 C.

Ove Hoegh-Guldberg of Queensland University and Lesley Hughes of Macquarie University in New South Wales, two professors who co-authored the report, said “this is not an imaginary future dystopia”.

“It’s a scientific projection based on our (Australia’s) current emissions trajectory — a vision of Australia we must both strenuously try to avoid, but also prepare for,” they said, according to a report on the news website The Conversation.

“For Australia, which is such a large per capita contributor to global emissions, and which has such abundance of natural renewable resources, the answer lies in scaling up clean energy generation ASAP,” Brian Schmidt, vice-chancellor of the Australian National University, said during the recent 2021 United Nations Climate Adaptation Summit. “This is an urgent moral obligation which Australia must not shirk.”

Several countries are working toward net zero emissions by 2050, but Australia has no commitment forthcoming.

Kevin Parton, a professor at the Institute for Land, Water and Society at Charles Sturt University in New South Wales, told China Daily: “The longer Australia delays moving to a proper climate change policy, the fewer economic opportunities there will be from being an early adopter of the technologies of the green revolution.”

John Quiggin, an Australian Laureate Fellow in Economics at the University of Queensland, said: “The international pressure on the Morrison government to adopt a 2050 zero net emissions target in the near future is becoming irresistible,” referring to the current government under Prime Minister Scott Morrison.

Quiggin noted that the European Union is moving steadily toward the imposition of a border tax on exports from noncompliant countries.

Ian Lowe, emeritus professor of science, technology and society at Griffith University in Queensland, said: “The world must reach zero emissions before 2050 to avoid dangerous climate change. To do our share, we need to develop action plans for the major sectors of electricity, transport, manufacturing and agriculture.”

Dries Verstraete, associate professor in the University of Sydney’s faculty of engineering and a specialist in fuel cells, said: “It’s not just electric and hybrid cars that need investment and stewardship, but aviation too. Decarbonizing commuter aircraft will contribute to reducing worldwide greenhouse gases.”

However, the need to switch to electric-powered road transport is what is really more important, Verstraete said. “Many people think aircraft are the biggest polluters and are a luxury but forget that taking their car to work every day contributes a lot more.”


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